Written by Sylvie Krekow
Sylvie Krekow investigates a forgotten tale of campus larceny. Look for this and more in the forthcoming April issue of The Blue & White.
Few at Columbia were thrilled when Livingston Hall was renamed Wallach Hall. “I do remember there being people, including myself, who thought that was the wrong thing to do,” recalls an anonymous CC alum. The building was originally named after Robert Robert Livingston, a King’s College graduate who enjoyed an illustrious political career—he was even one of the five original drafters of the Declaration of Independence. But after a generous donation from Ira Wallach, CC ’29, LW ’31, to renovate the building, the founding father’s name was literally ripped off of the building and mounted onto a bulky hardwood sign that hung inside a Hartley housing office. Livingston was thus replaced with the surname of the newer, wealthier benefactor. For many undergrads, this amounted to nothing less than an underhanded buy-in to Columbia’s cultural institutionality.
In 1988, on the last day of classes before Christmas, the Livingston sign was “liberated” from the Hartley housing office by a student. Galvanized by an inspiring combination of indignation and boredom, Walter* stole into the office where the sign was held and opened the window. He returned through the window that night, when the office was closed and locked, grabbed the sign, and snuck it into a nearby office where he worked part-time. The sign is hefty—at least 4 feet long and 2 feet tall, not to mention heavy—so smuggling it past the Hartley security guards was no easy feat.
Using the holiday season to his advantage, Walter strategically placed several rolls of festive wrapping paper in his office before the heist in order to wrap the sign like a present. After swaddling the sign in green and red, he carefully addressed the package, “To: Walter, Love: Walter” and tipped his hat to the guard who held the door for him as he departed Hartley, sign in hand. Mischief managed, Walter carried old Livingston back to his room where it hung until he graduated. Although the statute of limitations has more than likely passed for this supposed “crime,” the alum who, ahem, emancipated dear Livingston wishes to remain anonymous—and requests that the current location of the sign remain undisclosed.
*Names have been changed to protect the guilty